Ramses Clements ’10
Street Outreach Supervisor, Homeless and Missing Youth Program
Major at Wooster: Philosophy
We imagine what sex trafficking looks like. Shadowy, dark transactions—perhaps in Cambodian bars or Thai brothels. Somewhere very far away.
Ramses Clements ’10, street outreach supervisor for Bellefaire JCB’s Homeless and Missing Youth Program in Cleveland, knows exactly what it looks like in Cuyahoga County. It begins with a youth running away or becoming homeless. Within 48-72 hours of being on the streets, chances are very high that a young person will become abused—either coerced into survival sex or assaulted.
He knows where to look and what to look for: gas stations, malls, and motels; teens with lots of cash and no IDs, wearing backpacks stuffed with unlikely contents—perhaps a pillow and toiletries. He is both educator and caseworker and knows that it takes a city to save a kid. He partners with many community organizations—the police, homeless shelters, schools, libraries, and the Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.
A philosophy major at Wooster who went on for his master’s in community and social development, Clements is keenly interested in how public policy plays out in a community and on its streets. An intern with Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and with Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman, Clements says Ohio could do much to stem its homeless and missing youth population if its policies would address the vulnerability of 18 to 24 year-olds who have aged out of the state’s foster care system.
And, he says, when there is no support system in schools for young people who are LGBT (making up approximately 40 percent of homeless and runaway youth), the community has denied itself a life raft. “A lot of us take our families and support systems so much for granted that we can’t imagine being without them. A lot of these guys don’t have anything or anyone. If they’re not supported, if no one is taking into account who they are, they reach out to anyone who will accept them.
“Some of them have been on their own for years. I congratulate them. I say, ‘Look what you’ve done on your own. Think how much more you could do if we work together.’”
As a case manager for half a dozen youth at any given time, Clements’ goals for them are threefold: to find safe housing, to graduate from high school and continue vocational training, and to find a job. Each goal comes with hurdles, including fear of applying for a job because of a conviction on their record.
Is it hard to earn their trust? Clements laughs. “I give them clothes and toiletries, and help them find shelter. It’s not too hard a sell. And I also tell them I understand some things. I grew up in a single parent family in Chicago. I know about eating syrup sandwiches to stretch your food budget.”
Clements, who hopes someday to go into politics, says that education and information for every member of the community is key to change. “The lack of information is why policies fall short. We all need to be part of the network—have a contact, have a phone number, have an answer. Everyone must be our eyes, ears, and advocates.”
[A version of this profile appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Wooster magazine.]